Mt. Harrington P300 SPS / CS
Despair BM P300
Hogback Peak P300
Kennedy Mountain P500 SPS

Thu, Aug 23, 2007
Mt. Harrington
Kennedy Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile

Getting to the Sierra for a single day is probably not the most environmentally friendly use of gasoline one could imagine, especially if one happens to live five hours away in the Bay Area. But it has become somewhat of a habit for me this summer, a way to get a long dayhike in while only being away from the family for a bit more than 24hrs. For today's marathon, I chose a pair of SPS peaks on the Monarch Divide for my destination, Mt. Harrington and Kennedy Mtn. Neither by itself is a particularly difficult dayhike, but the combination would make for a sufficiently long day. Leaving home around 8p and driving through the night, I reached the Lewis Creek TH just before 1:30a, setting out by headlamp on a moonless night.

It took almost 2.5hrs to reach the trail junction at Frypan Meadow, the only route-finding problem I would have all day. The sign at the junction indicates Grizzly Lakes off to the left, but there was nothing but a huge Ponderosa and a bunch of brush off in that direction. I duly plunged into the brush (after all, the sign indicated an "unimproved" trail), but stomp around as I did, I could find nothing resembling even a game trail. Finally emerging back at the sign and looking around in more detail, I found a use trail heading in the right direction starting about 10 yards south of the sign. Go figure.

It took all my concentration to follow the thin trail through the forest understory by headlamp. The trail, or what passed for one, was covered in pine needles, often making it difficult to distinguish from the rest of the forest floor. Earlier I had begun to think I had started the hike too early and would find myself on Harrington's class 4 SE Ridge in the dark before sunrise - an unwelcome prospect. But I lost the trail so many times that it took me more than two hours to cover the four miles past Frypan Meadow. Daylight came upon me as I was leaving the trail above Grizzly Lakes and traversing west to Harrington. The SE Ridge rose up in the predawn light ahead of me, and it was a straightforward matter to scramble onto the start of it.

Matthew had reported being stumped at the crux along this ridgeline some two years earlier. My hope was that superior skills would allow me to overcome whatever obstacles had stopped him, and that I would find an exhilarating bit of class 4 on my way to the summit. Most of the ridge is class 2 or easy class 3, and it was only in the last 80ft or so that the crux is encountered. Daybreak broke on the ridge at the same time, making for a spectacular sunrise. Harrington's summit cast a long, pyramid-shaped shadow deep into the Central Valley to the west, the sun was bathing the surrounding ridges in golden morning light, and everything looked to be going my way. Except that I couldn't get past the crux. A short wall of maybe 25ft blocked access in a protective ring around the ridge. I found four different places that might offer a way up and gave each of them some time and effort, but none could I surmount. The technically easiest was right along the ridgeline, but it had poor handholds and frightful exposure off the east side. After some fifteen minutes or so I finally had to admit there was no superior skill hidden in my bag of tricks.

Like Matthew, I then dropped down and traversed around the west side of the peak. I stayed fairly high on this traverse, which meant I didn't lose more than about 100ft of elevation, but there was a good deal of class 3 that slowed me down probably as much as if I'd just dropped to the easier class 2 slopes further down. My traverse brought me onto the North Ridge of Harrington about 150ft below the summit, from where I could then reach the summit by following the ridge. There was more class 3 on the North Ridge which was surprisingly fun, and just before 7:30a I found myself on top. The register was a beauty, dating back to the early 1960's, including a few scraps of paper going back to 1955 - more than 50yrs of Harrington history. There was a Doug Mantle entry from his college days at UCLA dated 1971, a Steve Roper entry, and many other familiar names.

That wasn't so bad. Too bad the next section was. It seemed, from looking at the map, that it wouldn't be too hard to traverse the Monarch Divide over to Kennedy Mtn to the east. Matthew had started this on his visit to Harrington, but had then dropped the idea less than halfway across, and returned to the trailhead as he ran out of time. Being so early in the morning, I had pretty much all day, so I figured it was a cinch. Not so. The first part, getting to HogBack Peak wasn't so bad, at least initially. But the easier terrain soon gives way to boulder and talus and it started to drag on. I reached what I thought was the Hogback, noted by a USGS marker, only to find the highpoint still 45 minutes away over more talus. At the true summit there was a nice register there placed in 1980 by Gordon MacLeod and Barbara Lilley. I found Matthew's entry from 2005 on the last page with only one other visitor in the intervening two years.

I continued along the Monarche Divide for only a little while longer before the futility of it all struck me. Kennedy Mtn wasn't all that far away, but there were many ups and downs along the way and it all looked to be more of the same boulder and talus. It would take more than a few hours to continue this pursuit. I was still determined to get to Kennedy, but decided on a new strategy. I started a downward traverse along the south side of the divide, aiming for the Lewis Creek drainage below the peak. From there I sauntered up to Kennedy's SW Ridge which I found more to my liking ("sauntering" isn't all that accurate because I was pretty pooped by this time and it was really more like a slog climbing the ridge). In all, it took me five hours from Harrington - more than three hours from Hogback - to reach Kennedy Mtn, quite a bit of time for maybe five miles distance. I no longer wondered why Matthew had given up on it. The good news was that I could take mostly trail back from here. Kennedy Pass was just a short distance to the east and took only 20 minutes to reach from the summit. From there it was a pleasant (because it was all downhill) stroll back to Frypan Meadow and then back to the Lewis Creek Trailhead. Along the way I was treated to the views I could not see in the darkness of early morning, namely the impressive views up to the Monarch Divide high above the Kings River, and similarly nice views to Grand Sentinel and the other features rising on the south side of Kings Canyon. I returned to the TH not long before 4p, making for a 14.5hr outing. Before starting for home I rinsed off in the nearby river and changed into a fresh set of clothes. That would make a world of difference to body and soul before starting off for the 5hr drive home.

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For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Harrington - Kennedy Mountain

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